The Wolf of Wall Street
On paper, “The Wolf of Wall Street” already looked good: Scorsese and DiCaprio teaming up for the fifth time on an adaptation of Jordan Belfort’s scandalous Wall Street tell-all, an opportunity to apply the master director’s talent for crime dramas to white-collar subterfuge. This first trailer, set to the pulsing, screeching beats of Kanye’s “Black Skinhead,” ratchets the anticipation up another notch. Leo’s first-person narration and the scenes of bonkers financial excess immediately positions “Wolf of Wall Street” as a spiritual sequel to “Goodfellas” – only with the manic energy and pitch-black humor amped up to YouTube-era expectations. Which sounds absolutely fantastic to me.
There’s not much of the actual plot on display here, and I would suspect that the film isn’t quite the fun and games it seems to be from this. But as a first marketing step, playing up the comedy is probably a smart move; leave the cultural commentary for the critics come release time.
There’s a lot of talk already about whether the DiCaprio/Scorsese collaboration will end up on the same level as De Niro/Scorsese, which I think has to be a resounding no, at least so far as Marty is concerned. Even if you think “The Departed” is an unquestionable masterpiece (not something I’m willing to agree to), Leo/Scorsese still hasn’t produced the kind of earth-shaking material we got from “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “GoodFellas,” “Mean Streets” and “Cape Fear.” But I think it’s fair to say, in retrospect, that working with Scorsese infused a new life into DiCaprio’s career, definitely helping to turn him into the dominant, dynamic leading man that he has become today. If his performance here is as playful and commanding as it appears to be, that puts him on a serious streak in the past year, following “Django Unchained” and “The Great Gatsby.”
Finally, though, how about Matthew McConaughey? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone turn their career around from rom-com punchline to invaluable prestige player, certainly not so quickly. It’s a sign that the American indie scene is still doing something right if someone like McConaughey can go back to school in smaller films like “Bernie,” “Killer Joe” and “Mud” and wind up stealing the show in bigger studio fare like “Magic Mike” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Buzz is also huge around McConaughey’s lead performance in the upcoming drama “Dallas Buyers Club” (where the actor lost a huge amount of weight to play an HIV patient), so I seriously want to warn you guys now that the star of “Fool’s Gold” winning an Oscar is an absolutely real possibility. I hope you’re prepared.
In a World…
Another Sundance favorite gets a trailer. This is a great, offbeat concept, and I’m loving the casting (particularly Fred Melamed, who is just not in nearly enough things, considering he’s done this). There’s nothing ground-breaking about another quirky indie comedy, but Lake Bell’s writer/director debut should at least be a nice bit of late-summer counterprogramming.
2013 has already seen two major Korean directors making their English-language debut: there was Park Chan-Wook’s gleefully over-the-top “Stoker” (still firmly my favorite film of the year, as it happens), and Kim Jee-Woon’s rather less-enthusiastically-received “The Last Stand.” But there’s yet one more to come, as Bong Joon-ho (“The Host,” “Mother”) continues the trend with this crazy-looking post-apocalyptic actioner. My readers should know that I’m already firmly in Bong’s camp, so the idea of him working with Tilda Swinton in full-on Maggie Thatcher caricature mode has me positively giddy. I also find it hilarious that you can really tell this is an international trailer: in a film with well-established Hollywood stars like Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt and Swinton, Korean superstar Kang-ho Song gets the biggest reveal. The special effects for the outside of the train are a little obviously low-budget, but Bong is no stranger to using shoestring resources to great effect. Count me in.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
I had hoped that my issues with the first film in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy (too long with not enough substance, fake-looking video game action scenes, shoehorned fan service) might get solved in further installments, but the first look at “The Desolation of Smaug” just looks even worse. Part of what made the Lord of the Rings trilogy so special was its insistent reliance on practical effects (models, forced perspective, makeup) and spectacular real-world locations: CGI was used mostly peripherally, to enhance what was already there (which makes those early-2000s effects hold up extremely well, by the way). It feels like Jackson has totally ditched that aesthetic to heighten the fantasy elements of the story, which has the unwanted effect of making “The Hobbit” look like every other blockbuster epic out there. It’s not exactly the emphasis on big action set-pieces that I’m complaining about – it’s not like LOTR was short on them – but it all just feels so much less visceral. The comforting familiarity of Middle Earth and great characters like Gandalf and Bilbo will draw me in again, I’m sure, but it’s just disappointing to see Jackson getting so…generic.